It’s 3.27am and I’m staring at the ceiling.
I turn to my left and stare instead at the streetlight outside for something different to look at. I’ve already spent enough time gazing forlornly at the shadows it casts on the bedroom wall to my right.
What the fuck am I doing?
There’s less than 6 months to go until the start of the Transcontinental and I thought I was fine with that, in a healthily scared kind of way. I have showed intent and paid my deposit, training has been going nicely and between then and now big rides and adventures have been planned to get used to long distances and day-on-day riding, all of which I’m genuinely looking forward to, but someone has opened a drawer in the grubby unhoovered corner of my brain and let all of the dank self-doubt out. Then they kicked over the storage bin full of pointless and spilled it across the floor. Slow emotional meltdown.
This whole thing is inane.
I stretch my right arm out as far as I can and barely scruffle the nape of the cat at the end of the bed with the tip of my middle finger for some kind of comfort.
Why do I need to spend a fortnight forcing myself across a Continent?
All the valid justifications and reasons and whys that my pairs team-mate Gavin and I have come up with for doing this overlong bike ride suddenly all seem like chucking empty gestures towards the vast black unheeding sky outside. Who the heck was I kidding? It’s obviously just a desperate preoccupation to plaster over the cracks in my life with, a scrabble at some sort of direction, purpose and meaning, clutching at long distance straws and hoping they’ll float. A significant birthday coming up panic, a selfish pointless vanity exercise to give some point. There’s a feeling that I’ll really get on with this ultra-bike-riding thing and I can start planning to head straight out on another adventure somewhere as soon as I get back. Keep going, never stop. What I hoped to think was a running towards a new life of worldwide travel and experiences has flipped in the dark mirror to be one of running away and escaping a life. If I can make myself a constantly moving target nothing can get me. It’s all complete bullshit.
How the hell am I going to tell Gavin this? I’m sure he’ll understand, best let him know now rather than later. Crap.
What makes it all worse is that people are believing in me and willingly aiding me towards the completion of this utterly futile task. I’ll be letting them down too. There’s a full box of fresh Shimano Di2 gearing and whatnot downstairs ready to make the shift onto the Kinesis titanium frame and wheels I’ve already been cracking the miles off on, and a bunch of Fabric saddles and tape to experiment with to get the perfect comfort and fit. There’s a whole lovely blessing of what is meant to be support and encouragement wrapped up in all of this but right now it’s a quiet and heavy incubus of expectation sat on my chest. Try and breathe.
And despite eternally gratefully being given thousands of pounds worth of kit this venture is going to be financially crippling. Gavin and I baulked a few days ago when briefly looking at the flights back from the finish in Greece, and the day-to-day living on the road with just the odd hotel planned along the way for hurried moments of comfort is going to inhale money. But that’s the easy bit, even before that there’s all the extra bits of equipment needed, long training weekends away, and while bike-packing isn’t an expensive way of getting about it all adds up, mostly it seems in the cost of food, something the recent increase in miles and associated fuel has pulled into sharp focus. I need to get that ebay page sorted and sell stuff. Anything, everything.
I can’t deal with this. This has all been a terrible terrible mistake. I feel a sick bile lump deep inside. Despite this mental maelstrom I drift asleep at some point, hollow hopeless and heartless.
While my team-mate is ticking off a 200km ride today as part of his Transcon training I’ve already made my excuses of work to do and only have enough time for a couple of hours on the bike in the afternoon. I dither at what needs doing and procrastinate slowly and efficiently about the house before eventually kicking myself outside for a bit of a play on the CX bike. Cyclo-cross has been on a live feed (see procrastination above) and it feels right to be there in spirit, and it means a much needed bit of fun and a momentary break from treading more tedious tarmac.
Within 10 yards of riding off-road I crash over the bars.
Go back home, tighten the smashed skew-whiff and loose brake lever, deep breath, start again.
No particular destination, weaving in and out all the secret ways and hidden paths in the neighbourhood before deciding to head out onto the hills as conditions are remarkably unclaggy under-tyre for the time of year and the weather’s feeling almost kind at the end of a cold snap. Up, down, up, down, around there, a real drunk spider of a route, down there and up there, just because.
Still sulking the back of my mind are the swirling spiraling thoughts of last night, this morning. Quietly brooding, the stiff westerly unable to blow them out, a constant ride companion, a heavy shadow.
My route never strays far from home, three miles as the crow flies at most with the option to just turn and coast back for tea and toast always there, but never taken. Up, down, up, down, around there, down there and up there, bit more, just because.
Even cresting the hill that’s always quite a traditional last hill doesn’t see a Pavlovian left wheel and an easy fun descent to finish. Look at the time, look at the suns position in the sky, look at the shadowing ridge on the other side of the valley, do some sums in my head, I can do that if I don’t faff about. Just one more just one more hill. Drop down to the river, out the other side, negotiate the usually grunty two steep sections in the climb with unaccustomed ease and finally swing back round to head home with just enough light on my back to not quite need lights.
It is 4.27pm and without even trying or even thinking about it I have reminded myself that there is something In my bones that always makes me keep going, take the long way, find another hill.
It’s what I do. Best I keep doing it.
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.